Acute Sinusitis

Acute sinusitis is an infection in your sinuses that typically lasts seven to 10 days. Symptoms include stuffy (congested) nose, facial pain and fatigue. Acute sinusitis often goes away with home care, but you may need medication for acute sinusitis that lasts longer than 10 days.


What is acute sinusitis?

Acute sinusitis is a short-term sinus infection (sinusitis). Acute sinusitis symptoms may last a week to 10 days and often go away without medical treatment. Home care and over-the-counter (OTC) decongestants help ease acute sinusitis symptoms.


Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy

Symptoms and Causes

What are acute sinusitis symptoms?

Acute sinusitis symptoms include:

What causes acute sinusitis?

Acute sinusitis often happens when you’re getting over a cold. Your sinuses are a series of connected hollow spaces behind your cheekbones, forehead and nose. Air that comes in through your nose travels through your sinuses on its way to your lungs.

Your sinuses are lined with tissue. They also make mucus that keeps the inside of your nose moist. Mucus flowing out of your sinuses also takes care of debris like bacteria or viruses that air may carry into your nose.

Sinusitis happens when bacteria and viruses settle in your sinuses, making their tissues swell. At the same time, your sinuses make more mucus. Normally, mucus flowing away from your sinuses washes away intruders. But when your sinus tissues swell, that mucus becomes trapped.

Your sinuses become blocked and fill up with fluid, making your nose feel clogged up or stuffy. Your face may feel tender to the touch and you may develop a sinus headache.

What are the risk factors for this condition?

Some people are more likely than others to get acute sinusitis. These include:

  • People who have allergies.
  • People who have structural issues with their noses like a deviated septum or polyps, which are growths that can hang inside noses or sinus cavities.
  • People who spend a great deal of time in places where infections happen, like preschools or day cares.


What are the complications of acute sinusitis?

Rarely, infections that started acute sinusitis may spread into areas of your nervous system, like your brain, eyes or spinal cord.

Diagnosis and Tests

How is acute sinusitis diagnosed?

Healthcare providers typically diagnose acute sinusitis by discussing your symptoms, including how long you’ve had them and if they’re getting worse. A provider will look at your ears, nose and throat for signs of swelling or drainage.


Management and Treatment

How is acute sinusitis treated?

Acute sinusitis often goes away without prescription medication. It may take some time for your sinuses to clear but there many things you can do to ease sinus pressure:

  • Start your day with a saline nasal spray to clear congestion if you wake up with a stuffy nose. Another option is using a neti pot to flush away nasal congestion.
  • Take a shower. The warm steam may clear your sinuses and ease sinus pressure. Don’t have time for a shower? Wring out a washcloth soaked in hot water and drape it over your face.
  • Keep a humidifier or vaporizer at the head of your bed. That way, you’re getting a steady stream of steam that moisturizes the air you breathe in as you sleep.
  • Drink extra fluids, including hot fluids like water with lemon or tea.
  • Try over-the-counter nasal decongestants. But be sure to check with your healthcare provider. They may recommend you only use medicated sprays for a few days.
  • Get extra rest. Your body is doing its best to fight off infection, and getting more rest than usual will help.

A healthcare provider may prescribe antibiotics if you have acute sinusitis from a bacterial infection. Often, providers will take a wait-and-see approach before prescribing antibiotics. In general, acute sinusitis symptoms that last 10 or more days may be signs of bacterial infection.


Can acute sinusitis be prevented?

A little prevention goes a long way toward keeping your sinuses clear:

  • Don’t smoke and avoid second-hand smoke. If you smoke, consider talking to a healthcare provider for resources to help you quit.
  • Avoid things like animal dander, dust, mold and pollen — anything that triggers an allergic reaction that makes your nose run or become stuffy. And if you have allergies, talk to a healthcare provider about over-the-counter or prescription medication that reduces allergic reactions.
  • Protect yourself from cold and flu germs by keeping your distance from people who are sick and by washing your hands before and after eating and after using the bathroom.
  • Keeping your body and your immune system in good shape by eating well (lots of vegetables and fruits) and drinking lots of water.

Outlook / Prognosis

What can I expect if I have acute sinusitis?

The good news is acute sinusitis often goes away within a week or so and without treatment. The not-so-good news is you may get frustrated waiting for acute sinusitis to run its course. Acute sinusitis isn’t life threatening, but it can affect your sleep or keep you from doing things you enjoy. If that’s your situation, talk to your healthcare provider about things you can do to help yourself.

Living With

When should I see my healthcare provider?

You should contact your provider if:

  • Your symptoms last longer than 10 days.
  • Your symptoms initially get better but then get worse.
  • You develop a sinus headache.
  • You’ve done everything you can to ease your symptoms, but you still feel sick. Your provider may recommend other steps you can take.

What questions should I ask my healthcare provider?

You may want to ask the following questions:

  • Do I have a viral or bacterial acute sinus infection?
  • What else could be causing my symptoms?
  • If I have a viral infection, what over-the-counter decongestants do you recommend?
  • How soon will I feel better?
  • What should I do if my symptoms get worse?

Additional Common Questions

Can acute sinusitis go away on its own?

Yes, it can. Often, acute sinusitis goes away within seven to 10 days.

Should I stay home with acute sinusitis?

If you have acute sinusitis from a cold or flu, please do try to stay home until you feel better. That way, you won’t run the risk of spreading cold and flu germs to others.

What’s the difference between acute sinusitis and chronic sinusitis?

The main difference is how long your symptoms last. If you have acute sinusitis, your symptoms likely will go away within a week to 10 days, but some people have symptoms that last up to four weeks. Chronic sinusitis symptoms last 12 weeks or more.

A note from Cleveland Clinic

Acute sinusitis (sinus infection) can clog your nose with mucus, make your face hurt and make you feel exhausted. Acute sinusitis isn’t a serious medical issue, but its symptoms can make you feel miserable. The good news is, there are many things you can do to feel better. If you think you have acute sinusitis, ask a healthcare provider to recommend over-the-counter medications and other self-care tips. And be sure to contact a provider if your symptoms last longer than you expect or get worse.

Medically Reviewed

Last reviewed on 07/12/2023.

Learn more about our editorial process.

Appointments 216.444.8500